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America's Heart and Soul
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by Elaine Perrone

"Postcards from the Heartland."
4 stars

Louis Schwartzberg's pictorial (I hesitate calling it a documentary), America's Heart & Soul, is an engaging series of snapshots of some two dozen Americans at work and at play, with the only commonality among them being that each is seen doing something that brings him or her joy.

There are musicians, from Cajun to Klezmer; salsa dancers and cliff dancers who defy gravity by turning it sideways; a middle-aged Black gospel singer in Jackson MS, and a young opera singer in New York who is thrilled to be making her debut at the Met.

In Vermont, there's Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's, who is filmed in the process of testing a new flavor; and George Woodard, a dairy farmer who works seven days a week but who also finds time to write music and perform as Dracula in his local theatre company.

There's the minister who tends his flock from a liberal, multi-cultural church in San Francisco's Tenderloin; and, in Chicago, the ex-con who has become a boxing teacher and mentor to inner-city children.

There is the "demolition artist," who blows up stuff and bowls down pyramids of television sets; the scrap-metal artist, who fashions animal sculptures out of auto-body parts; and the artists whose palettes are their automobiles, which are totally covered with lavish ornaments. (One, owned by a woman whose friend quipped that the vehicle was decorated with everything but the kitchen sink, now sports a kitchen sink.)

There's an Appalachian rug-weaver, and a bicycle messenger in Manhattan whose great thrill is speed-weaving his way in and out of downtown traffic in order to get those packages delivered swiftly!

There is Eric Weihenmayer, a blind mountain climber, one of the few who has scaled the world's seven highest peaks; and Boston Marathon runners Rick and Dick Hoyt, who compete as a team: Rick, with cerebral palsy, from his wheelchair, and Dick, his dad, running behind.

Despite its schmaltzy title, the Disney label attached, and a closing segment that is worthy of being slapped right in the middle of a Bush campaign ad, America's Heart & Soul is not a right-wing political statement about a perfect America without racism or poverty, as some critics are making it out to be. As far as I can determine, director-cinematographer Schwartzberg's only agenda is to present some mighty entertaining glimpses of a few interesting people who just happen to be lucky enough to find great joy in their lives. That his movie is uplifting is hardly a negative thing, nor is the fact that he has incorporated some stunningly beautiful images of the American landscape.

My only real criticism with the film is that, with a total running time under 90 minutes and no one segment longer than about three minutes, there is no possible way to do justice to the characters, many of whom, like the Hoyts, Eric Weihenmayer, or George Woodard, would make fascinating subjects of a 90 minute film devoted to them alone. In its brevity, it is the cinematic equivalent of a gorgeously photographed coffee-table book: It's great fun to flip through the pictures, but other than a few captions, the viewer isn't given much information about what he or she is looking at, nor a lot of food for thought to take away.

At the end of the day, America's Heart & Soul is far more travelogue than documentary, and one that would look just swell on an IMAX screen.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10186&reviewer=376
originally posted: 07/22/04 23:02:43
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User Comments

12/08/06 Alice Rulete he washed his hands even though he did not turn on the faucet 3 stars
7/27/04 Gray boring but ok 4 stars
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  02-Jul-2004 (PG)



Directed by
  Louis Schatzberg

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